Economic and Workforce Development Go Hand in Hand
By Rep. Kristi Noem
It’s been a while since we’ve heard optimism about the economy. The unemployment rate is hovering around 4 percent. The economy is consistently producing more than 200,000 jobs per month. Nearly 7 in ten Americans feel good about where the economy is headed – that’s up five percentage points since June alone and comparable to what folks felt in the early 2000’s, according to a recent CBS News poll. Even the New York Times posted a headline that read: “Jobs Roar Back.”
While momentum must continue on key growth issues like regulatory relief and tax reform, we must also focus on another area: our workforce. Are young people getting the training and qualifications they need to compete and win in this new, modernized, and growing economy? Too often, the answer I hear is “not quite.”
In South Dakota, we are incredibly blessed to have a network of tech schools that provide training for the most in-demand jobs. Recently, WalletHub ranked us as having the nation’s best system of community colleges. So, this August, I stopped by Lake Area Tech in Watertown to discuss with local businesses and educators what makes South Dakota stand out.
At Lake Area Tech, 99 percent of graduates are employed after graduation, and they’re often landing good jobs, earning around 25 percent more than other new hires. What makes the difference? For one, South Dakota tech schools, like Lake Area Tech, are providing quality training and education. But they are also putting in the work necessary to connect those educating our workforce with those hiring our workforce. That connection can be instrumental to a student’s success.
This partnership between educators and employers ought to be a model for the nation. Earlier this year, I helped pass the Strengthening Career and Technical Education Act through the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation takes many of the ideas that are working at places like Lake Area Tech and creates an infrastructure for them to work nationwide.
More specifically, the legislation would better align education with in-demand jobs. It does so by lifting some of the barriers that discourage strong partnerships between job creators and educators. It also grants states and local community leaders more flexibility in using federal education dollars, opening opportunities for innovative learning experiences. Finally, the bill would increase transparency to ensure career and technical education programs are delivering real results.
These are smart reforms that I’m hopeful the Senate will take up soon, so we can get them to the president’s desk.
There’s a lot of focus right now on economic development, which is necessary and a good change of pace from the previous administration. I’m going to continue to build on the successes we’ve had repealing job-killing regulations while also pursuing tax reform that leaves more money in people’s pockets and helps businesses create jobs and increase wages.
But alongside economic development, we have a responsibility to pursue workforce development. America’s most valuable asset is – and always has been – our people. We are hardworking and smart. We take pride in a “Made in America” label. And we live by a set of values that celebrate freedom, liberty, and personal responsibility. By continuing to innovate new, more effective workforce development programs, we can help Americans from all walks of life not only find good-paying jobs, but meaningful careers they can grow in.